Virtual meetings are here to stay even when we can get back to meeting face-to-face. They offer a cheaper and more efficient means of communicating, but they need to be effective. Thank goodness we have the technology and that it keeps improving its offering, but we need to evolve our skills and behaviours to match this.
The effectiveness of any meeting is determined by the behaviours of those attending. Over the past year, I have listened to delegates’ issues, plus observed and experienced a wide range of conduct from good to bad. I have also benefited from attending Casterbridge Speakers Club meetings (part of Toastmasters International) where I received invaluable feedback. Here are my recommendations from all that.
1. On Mute
The most heard phrase of the last year must be ‘You’re still on mute’. I have fallen into that trap many times myself. It is that instinctive response to speak when it is your turn. You can pause…… and take the time before you speak to check that you are unmuted. You can also unmute whilst being introduced so you are ready to go.
Many people are now homeworkers for the first time, and it is easy to go ‘feral’. I have seen people turn up to business meetings in very casual outfits, which I am sure they would not do for actual meetings. You never get a second chance to make a good first impression, so my recommendation is to respect your audience and dress appropriately. That way, you can show you care.
Another consideration is having the right lighting and sound. It is a shame to spoil your message and gestures because your audience cannot see you properly, or hear you because your sound is fuzzy. It is important to have the right camera position so your audience are not looking up your nose, which is not the best angle for anyone.
3. Virtual Background
The technology is there to have a chosen background, especially if your natural surroundings are not great. Unlike a certain advert, I do not suggest you completely revamp your kitchen!
If you want to have a virtual background, make sure you have a smooth green screen behind you. As I learnt to my cost, make sure you are not wearing green! I recommend choosing an image which is simple rather than fussy like in the picture. It is also best to avoid anything distracting, such as moving images or fascinating bookshelves.
4. Avoid Distractions
As I trust you would do in actual meetings, avoid interruptions like phones, pets, post, and people wandering in. It is amazing what has happened in some meetings. Whereas stroking your cat may be comforting to you, your colleagues may only get a view of its backside on the screen! Your wife crawling along the floor behind you to avoid being seen is not a good image!
It is obvious to others if you are doing something else whilst someone is talking. Again you can show respect by truly listening and being involved. No doubt you would like people to fully listen to you when you speak.
5. Video On
Sometimes band width and size of audience requires videos to be off, otherwise I recommend leaving it on. It can be disconcerting talking to ‘the wall’; although you can get used to it. Choosing to have your video off is childish and disrespectful in my opinion. You wouldn’t sit under the table in a face-to-face meeting, which is the same as having your video off!
6. Slide share
Some presentations and meetings require sharing of information using slides. As in any meeting, visual aids are there to support your message and should not be your script. If using slides, be prepared and ready to show. I like to get the first slide set up on screen share before speaking, so I can go straight to it. It also pays to make sure the host (if not you) has enabled screen share. Beware that any unwanted or confidential material doesn’t appear by mistake.
You may like to think about the font size and clarity of the slides as some of your colleagues may be viewing this on a tablet or phone, where the picture will be small.
7. Eye Contact
Credibility is critical in how your message is received and a big part of trust and holding your audience’s attention relies on eye contact. It is therefore important to keep your eyes on your camera as much as possible when you are speaking. Especially with gallery view, it can be easy to let your eyes wander around the screen, which can impact negatively on audience engagement and your credibility.
There is a lot of virtual fatigue out there with people having to attend back-to-back meetings, sometimes for ten hours a day. You can show empathy for this by keeping your message short, simple, and impactful with a clear purpose and structure of start, middle and end.
Impact can be created by using vocal variety, vivid language, emotion, pauses, relevant visuals, and stories. This is a massive topic, which I would be happy to discuss with you.
I believe you need to transmit more energy when virtual. Face-to-face meetings usually generate natural energy and rapport, but these can be missing in virtual meetings, which can therefore make them seem more intense. You can choose to sit or stand and speak in a way that exudes energy. Passion in your message will engage your audience.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, as in any meeting, it pays to set clear expectations of how you want your audience to behave. However, you then need to conduct yourself accordingly and role model that.
A further recommendation is to leave a 10 -15 minute gap between each meeting, so your brain has time to rest. Normally you would have to travel between rooms or stop for a coffee, but with a virtual calendar, it can stream from one meeting to the next without a break. This is not good for long term mental wellbeing.
Virtual Home Working
As a leader you have a responsibility for the wellbeing of your team. It can be hard to assess someone’s state of mind at the best of times, but this is even harder virtually. It pays to take time out in the meeting to check in on how people are coping.
Virtual technology has allowed a massive increase in homeworking. The CIPD and Simplyhealth Annual Health and Wellbeing Report, has found an increase in homeworking has failed to curb unhealthy working practices. Their report states that two-fifths of organisations experiencing problems have not taken any action to address the issues. You can access their supporting guidance to identify the main threats to wellbeing at work and find practical recommendations to tackle these challenges. Managers are often the first port of call if an employee is stressed, struggling, or in need of a workplace adjustment, so developing managers to spot early warning signs of poor wellbeing is crucial. It is giving them the confidence to recognise the signs and have the necessary conversations. This is not always easy in a virtual situation.
Also published on Medium.